At Home With Vivian: The right tool

After my father passed away, my mother kept his hammer, a pair of pliers and two screwdrivers – a flat and a Philips- in the kitchen junk drawer. We could fix anything with those tools. Growing up with a single mother, I learned to make do with what I had. I think it made me more creative person

One day when I was a teenager, I was hanging a new curtain rod in the living room when my Aunt Marion and Uncle Bill dropped in for a visit. People did that back in the day just dropped in without calling first. My mother made sure we kept a clean house all the time so there was no embarrassment if someone showed up unannounced. Nowadays I need an hour’s notice just to clear a pathway through our living room!

I made Aunt Marion, Uncle Bill and my mother a cup of tea and went back to trying to hang the curtain rod. I had screwed the base into the wall, but every time I put the curtain on the rod, the whole thing fell out of the wall. Uncle Bill watched me for a while and then said, “Do you need some help?”

My father was not known for his carpentry skills but his brother was. Uncle Bill was a carpenter before he went to work for Fiberboard in Antioch. I remember as a small child driving with my parents through the intersection of A Street and 18th street in Antioch and seeing Uncle Bill hammering up on the roof of the ‘new’ Wells Fargo Bank. To this day whenever we pass that building any relative in the car has to say, “there’s Uncle Billy’s Bank!”

Uncle Bill introduced me to molly screws that day and taught me how to find a stud in the wall. He was the first to teach me about using the right tool for the job.

For my 18th birthday, Uncle Bill and Aunt Marion gave me my very own hand drill. It was blue with a bright red handle. The end of the drill unscrewed to open a hidden cache of drill bits of varying sizes. I was thrilled. All I had to do was crank the handle around to get a nice hole. It was the first tool in my very own tool box. I used the tiniest bit to drill holes in sea shells to make jewelry. I learned how to predrill a hole so as not to split the wood when I built shelves in my first apartment. I loved my drill. I still have it and use it every time I need to make a hole. My tool box is full now. I have hammers, screw drivers, pliers of varying sizes and shapes, a glue gun, staple gun, screws, nails, and sandpaper. I have everything I need to work on my little artsy projects.

When Jeff and I married in 1978, my tool kit was all we owned. Then our first baby came along and we needed a crib. We were stationed in Japan and the BX (Air Force department store) on base did not carry cribs. We looked at catalogs and the shipping cost more than the cribs did. I was getting close to the baby due date when I mentioned my crib-less predicament to a neighbor. “Go to the base thrift shop!” she said

I found a beautiful gently used wooden crib for ten dollars and a high chair for five dollars at the thrift shop. But we were having our first baby and we wanted the crib to be perfect. Jeff took the crib apart and completely rebuilt it. He sanded it, drilled new holes for stronger brackets, stained it, and varnished it. It was gorgeous when he finished. It also cost us $175 for a new power drill, drill bits, jig saw, saw blades, and an orbital sander. That was the beginning of Jeff’s very own tool box.

Flash forward forty years and Jeff and I often work on our projects at the same time. He takes over the garage and I work in the kitchen. When I have sanding to do, I put a damp towel under it to catch the dust I make with my sandpaper.

A project I enjoy is refurbishing old chairs. I find toddler sized chairs at garage sales and thrift shops. They have to be sturdy and cost less than ten dollars. I take them home, sand them down and then paint them with whimsical designs. I give most of them to children in my family. Sometimes I donate them as raffle prizes for various charities.

I found a wonderful chair recently for my granddaughter. Sturdy as can be and cute as a button. It will be perfect when I finish painting her favorite Disney characters on it. The only problem with the chair was the years of wear and tear. Before I could paint, I had to smooth out the chips and sand down its multiple layers of glossy white paint. Ah well. I began hand sanding with a piece of 80 grit sand paper. The going was very slow. I was thinking about getting some paint remover.

After an hour of my sanding, Jeff came into the kitchen to refill his cup of coffee. He observed me for a while and then said “You could do that a lot faster with an electric hand sander”. He went out to the garage and brought his electric 1/3 sheet sander and several grades of sandpaper from 60 to 220 grit back in. Jeff gleefully informed me that I needed to use the right tool for the job.

Oh my!!! What a time saver! That little tool just went to town removing the glossy white paint in the big flat areas. Next time he came into the kitchen, he watched me using little squares of sandpaper to get into the corners. “I have the right tool for that!” and he brought me a Black and Decker palm sander. It worked pretty well but didn’t quite get it all so he brought in an even smaller electric detail sander. Voila! The chair was 99% sanded in only four hours. I hand sanded the few bits and pieces. Wonderful! What a time saver those electric tools were! Those tools saved me a day’s worth of sanding at least. The right tool for the job!

I stood back and looked at my chair and then at the sanding dust that had creeped off of the towel. Then I noticed the dust that had sifted into the cracks in the floorboards of my wooden kitchen floor. I looked up. Dust on the light fixtures. Dust on the leaves of my numerous plants. Dust on the window sills, cabinet doors, on the sugar bowl, the salt and pepper shakers and even in the cat’s water bowl. Oh my!!! So much for being a time saver. Those electric sanders might have been the right tool for the job, but the kitchen was certainly not the right place!

A week later and I’m still finding sanding dust hidden in nooks and crannies I didn’t know existed. I’m wiping walls, polishing the furniture, rinsing the wine glasses and dusting the picture frames and light fixtures. By the time I pick up all of the dust from sanding, this house will be clean enough for guests to come without calling first.

Jeff did volunteer to bring in the shop vacuum from the garage to help, but I’m not sure that it’s the right tool for the job.

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